If one quality characterises our wars today, it’s their endurance.
They never seem to end.
Though war itself may not be an American inevitability, these days many factors combine to make constant war an American near certainty.
Put metaphorically, America’s pursuit of war taps so many wellsprings in its behaviour, that a concerted effort to cap it would dwarf BP’s efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.
US political leaders, the media and the military interpret enduring war as a measure of America’s national fitness, global power, grit in the face of eternal danger and seriousness.
A desire to de-escalate and withdraw, on the other hand, is invariably seen as cut-and-run appeasement discounted as weakness.
Withdrawal options are, to use a pet phrase of Washington elites, invariably “off the table” when global policy is at stake – as was true during the Obama administration’s full-scale reconsideration of the Afghan war last year.
Viewed in this light, Obama’s ultimate decision to surge into Afghanistan was not only predictable but the only course considered suitable for an American war leader.
Rather than the tough choice, it was the path of least resistance.
Why do American elites so readily go to war? What exactly are the wellsprings of US’ behaviour when it comes to war and preparations for more of the same?
The truth is that no one really knows what would happen if the US disengaged from Afghanistan. But we do know what’s happening now with it fully engaged.
We’re pursuing a war that’s costing nearly $7 billion (about R53 billion) a month that we’re not winning (and that’s arguably unwinnable), a war that may be increasing the chances of another 9/11 rather than decreasing them.
Consider the wellsprings of war and the seven caps to these:
7 wellsprings of war:
We wage war because we think we’re good at it and because, at gut level, we’ve come to believe American wars can bring good to others (hence our feel-good names for them like operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom).
Most Americans are not only convinced we have the best troops, the best training and the most advanced weapons but also the purest motives.
Unlike the bad guys and barbarians out there in the global marketplace of death, our warriors are seen as gift-givers and freedom-bringers – not as death-dealers and resource-exploiters.
Our illusions about the military we “support” serve as a catalyst and apology for the persistent war-mongering we condone.
We wage war because we’ve already devoted so many of our resources to it.
It’s what we’re most prepared to do. More than half of discretionary federal spending goes to fund our military and its war or war preparations.
The military-industrial complex is a well-oiled, extremely profitable machine and the armed forces our favourite child, the one we’ve lavished the most resources and praise upon.
It’s natural to give your favourite child free rein.
We’ve managed to isolate war’s physical and emotional costs, leaving them on the shoulders of a tiny minority of Americans.
By eliminating the draft and relying ever more on for-profit private military contractors, we’ve made war a distant abstraction for most Americans, who can choose to consume it as spectacle or simply tune it out as background noise.
While war and its costs have, to date, been kept at arm’s length, US society has been militarising fast.
Our media outlets, intelligence agencies, politicians, foreign policy establishment and “homeland security” bureaucracy are so intertwined with military priorities and agendas as to be inseparable from them.
In militarised America, griping about the soft-hearted tactics or the outspokenness of a certain general may be tolerated, but forceful criticism of our military is still treated as “un-American”.
Our profligate, hi-tech approach to war, including those Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles, has served to limit American casualties and so has limited the anger over, and harsh questioning of, our wars that might go with them.
While the US has had more than 1 000 troops killed in Afghanistan, over a similar period in Vietnam we lost more than 58 000 troops.
Improved medical evacuation and trauma care, greater reliance on standoff precision weaponry and similar “force multipliers” and stronger emphasis on “force protection” within American military units.
All these and more have helped reduce concern about the immeasurable and soaring costs of our wars.
As we incessantly develop those force-multiplying weapons to give us our “edge” (though never an edge that leads to victory), it’s hardly surprising that the US has come to dominate, if not quite monopolise, the global arms trade.
In these years, as American jobs were outsourced or simply disappeared in the Great Recession, armaments have been one of our few growth industries.
Endless war has proven endlessly profitable – not perhaps for all of us but certainly for those in the business of war.
And don’t forget the seductive power of beyond-worse-case, doomsday scenarios, and the prophecies of pundits and so-called experts who regularly tell us that, bad as our wars may be, doing anything to end them would be far worse.
A typical scenario goes like this: If we withdraw from Afghanistan, the government of Hamid Karzai will collapse, the Taliban will surge to victory, al-Qaeda will pour into Afghan safe havens and Pakistan will be further destabilised, with its atomic bombs falling into the hands of terrorists out to destroy Peoria and Orlando.
7 ways to curb war:
Let’s reject the idea that war is either admirable or good and in the process remind ourselves that others often see us as “the foreign fighters” and profligate war consumers who kill innocents (despite our efforts to apply deadly force in surgically precise ways reflecting “courageous restraint”).
Let’s cut defence spending now and reduce the global “mission” that goes with it.
Set a reasonable goal – a 6%to 8% reduction annually for the next 10 years until levels of defence spending are at least back to where they were before 9/11 – and then stick to it.
Let’s stop privatising war. Creating ever more profitable incentives for war was always a ludicrous idea. It’s time to make war a non-profit, last-resort activity.
And let’s revive national service (including elective military service) for all young adults.
What we need is a revived civilian conservation corps, not a new civilian “expeditionary” force.
Let’s reverse the militarisation of so many dimensions of our society.
To cite one example: It’s time to empower truly independent (non-embedded) journalists to cover our wars and stop relying on retired generals and admirals who led our previous wars to be our media guides.
Men who are beholden to their former service branch or the current defence contractor who employs them can hardly be trusted to be critical and unbiased.
Let’s recognise that expensive, hi-tech weapons systems are not war-winners.
They’ve kept us in the game without yielding decisive results – unless you measure “results” in terms of cost overruns and burgeoning budget deficits.
Let’s retool our economy and reinvest our money, moving it out of the militaryindustrial complex and into strengthening our anaemic system of mass transit, crumbling infrastructure and alternative energy technology.
We need high-speed rail, safer roads and bridges, and more wind turbines – not more overpriced jet fighters.
Finally, let’s banish nightmare scenarios from our minds. The world is scary enough without forever imagining smoking guns morphing into mushroom clouds.»
» William J Astore is a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel and regular contributor to TomDispatch.com
» He has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School and currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology
» © 2010 William J Astore – Distributed by Agence Global